Last month, two smartly dressed gentlemen entered Dorcas Kilonzo’s M-Pesa shop near Tumaini Supermarket in Pipeline estate. They demanded the day’s collection but she refused so they shot her in the neck and abdomen before making away with an unknown amount of money.
Dorcas was pronounced dead on arrival at Landless Medical Centre. Police later recovered two spent 9mm cartridges at the scene of the crime.
Operating an M-Pesa shop in Pipeline estate is like living with a death wish over your head every working day. So real is the fear that survivors were unwilling to reveal their identities or even have their pictures taken. For others like Judy (not her real name) it was a lucky escape. The 2015 incident is still fresh in her mind.
“It was a bright Saturday in October 2015 and I was in my hotel. It is like they (thugs) knew me and were trailing me. I left the hotel I operate to go to a nearby hair salon using the front door because there was a women cleaning the area around the back door,” recalls Judy. Inside the salon, she bumped into two young men (maybe in their 20s) armed with pistols at the M-Pesa counter that she operates. They told her they knew everything about M-Pesa shops in the area and didn’t want to waste any time.
“There was a customer there and they took her phone and cash. They also took my key, opened the drawer and took the money, then transferred more money into another agent’s number.”
The thugs took Sh50,000 in cash, credit cards and Sh4,000 from the salon before casually walking out. It was the last time Judy ever operated an M-Pesa business. Today she is concerned only with the salon.
“I am not ready to die. I better invest in another business. The M-Pesa business is good but risky because they will steal from you and take you back many years. I even had a loan, which I’m still paying to date,” she says.
Rebecca (also not her real name), who is based in the estate’s Plot 10, is another victim. She has been robbed twice – once last year and again on February 18 this year.
“Last April, at 8am, I was in the shop. There were no security grilles on the door and people were entering to buy clothes that I was selling besides operating the M-Pesa shop,” she says.
“Two young men came in and robbed me of Sh200,000.” She reported the robbery to the police and was paid Sh90,000 by an insurance company. The rest was lost.
“Then last November, they came and robbed my daughter, who helps me sometimes. They took Sh180,000 and left with the machines used by Co-operative and Equity bank agents.” She is now considering closing the shop and venturing into a less risky business.
Many M-Pesa operators are now installing security grilles and leaving only a small opening to serve customers. Many others have also installed CCTV cameras.
Last year, two robbers were lynched in Pebble Beach area by residents when they tried to rob an M-Pesa shop.
The severity of the insecurity recently saw Safaricom organise a meeting at Pebble Beach Hotel with some business owners in the estate to chart the way forward.
“We met some Pipeline estate M-Pesa agents and security personnel to see how to combat this trend and how the agents can avoid being soft targets,” said Nicholas Mulila, the Safaricom director for risk.